Pasta alla Norma

I’ve probably mentioned more than once that I have a fiendish love of aubergines. I like them best when they are olive oil sodden but smoked aubergines in a baba ganoush dip are equally as good.

Sicily is one of the best aubergine destinations on the planet. After spending 2 weeks there in 2007 and doing lots of sightseeing, the most memorable parts of my trip were mounds of caponata as well as this Sicilian aubergine dish – Pasta alla Norma. It’s quick to make and easy to please and here’s the recipe.

Pasta alla Norma
Serves 2

Ingredients
– 3 tbsp olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
– 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped
– 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
– Small pinch of chilli flakes
– 1 aubergine
– Dried pasta (tube shaped pasta is good, I used De Cecco’s Tortiglioni). I used about 250g for 2 people but I am known to good too much pasta!
– Small handful of basil, chopped plus a few extra leaves for serving
– 2 tablespoons of ricotta
– 50g Parmesan, grated

Method
1. Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a medium-high heat. When soft, add the 2 cloves of crushed garlic followed by the anchovies and tin of tomatoes. Season well with salt, pepper and a small pinch of chilli flakes. Cook the sauce for at least 30 minutes on a low heat, or for up to an hour if you have the time. If at any time the sauce runs dry, don’t worry, just add a little water to the mix.

2. Halve the aubergine lengthways and then cut into vertical strips. Then slice the strips into 4 or 5 pieces width ways so you end up with little rectangles of aubergine. Fry in a pan on a medium-high heat containing the other 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry until golden and if the pan gets dry, drizzle over a little more oil. Drain and set aside.

3. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions in salty water until al dente. Drain and add to the tomato sauce. Add the aubergine and the basil and stir well. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the hob and allow everything to cook together for a few minutes.

4. Traditionally Pasta alla Norma is topped with ricotta salata which is ricotta that has been salted and dried. It is harder in texture to standard ricotta and can therefore be grated. However, you’ll be hard-pushed to find some without visiting a specialist shop. Instead, I spoon the pasta into bowls and add dots of standard ricotta around the dish. Top with grated Parmesan and decorate with a few basil leaves. Eat immediately!

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